Diane\'s Blog

Peg Gage

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

As a retired teacher who has lived the process you have described in The Death and Life… you are the first sign of hope I have felt in a long time regarding the state of public education.

I taught for 34 years in a large high quality suburban Detroit school system. The district was well managed, had a rich variety of programs to offer students, high staff moral, and high graduation rates. A few of the schools received Title I funds which were used to enrich math and reading programs in those schools for low achieving students. (We lived in the city of Detroit so I also saw first hand the contrast between what was offered in the suburbs and the city.) In the 1980s we began to hear the first drumbeat of school criticism. Parents came in very confused because they felt good about the experience their child was having in their local school but were being bombarded by negative messages about public schools. All the comparisons between test scores in country x never made clear whether those scores came from a system that tried to educate everyone as we were doing in the U.S. or whether those were scores from college prep type systems where large numbers of kids were excluded from the educational testing process.

I believe that I was considered to be a highly qualified teacher. It was a calling not a career. I had several degrees from major universities, had a personal interest in and loved teaching all subjects in 5th grade, used subject matter tests to shape how I was teaching and to identify kids who needed extra help, enjoyed all the quirky little personalities that made up the average classroom, and provided after class tutoring for kids who needed it. My class was a focused peaceful place. Parents requested that their child be placed there. I still keep in touch with students although I have been retired for ten years. I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching now. Merit pay will never replace the personal satisfaction of being able to try to meet the many and diverse needs of a typical class of students by teaching to the kids not teaching to the tests.

Thirty years into “reform” my former district is a disaster. Programs have been slashed. The teaching staff has become discouraged and no one goes “the extra mile” for students any more. The job has become one of staff and student coercion because “teaching to the test” is just downright boring and demeaning for both staff and students. The neighborhood school no longer exists as restructuring has broken delivery into K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12 buildings so that all teachers can do “specialized instruction” in the upper grades. The subject (test scores) matters not the kids.

You “get” what has happened to public education. Please keep working to help others understand how much has been lost. (And the most at risk kids are still not being well served.)

Thank you,
Peg Gage